Thursday, March 8, 2012

Battle of Elkhorn's Tavern - Day 2

During the night, Curtis, realizing he was being attacked by a full force in his rear, brought his entire army up to Van Dorn's front, and made sure his men had food and ammunition. Van Dorn's men remained disorganized. They had no food except what could be found on the bodies of the Northern dead, and the ammunition trains had been misplaced. When morning dawned on March 8th, Van Dorn did not take the initiative and attack. So Curtis assembled his artillery and opened a terrific bombardment on the Confederate forces with his 50 cannon. The noise was so loud it could be heard in towns 50 miles away. The Confederates hid in whatever shelter they could find to escape from the bursting shells, which killed or wounded many of their comrades. After inflicting two hours of this on Van Dorn's men, Curtis attacked. They advanced in a mile long line with flags flying, drums beating, and bugles sounding.
“That beautiful charge I shall never forget. With banners streaming, with drums beating, and our long line of blue coats advancing upon the double quick, with their deadly bayonets gleaming in the sunlight, and every man and officer yelling at the top of his lungs. The rebel yell was nowhere in comparison.”
The disheartened Confederates could not stand up to this impressive attack. Van Dorn ordered a retreat at 11:00 am, and the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, or Pea Ridge as it is also called, was over. Van Dorn's men retreated for a week, suffering terribly from lack of supplies. Curtis did not pursue. He had lost 200 killed and 1000 wounded. Van Dorn's complete casualties are not known, but they were probably significantly higher.

Pea Ridge - The Elkhorn Tavern
Elkhorn Tavern
With this defeat, most of Arkansas was also lost to the Federal forces. All hopes of recapturing Missouri were put to an end. Van Dorn's army was later sent to Mississippi, and Curtis marched South, finally capturing Helena 700 miles from his starting point and becoming the Union army furthest south.
Earl Van Dorn

This battle was lost by the failure of Confederate leadership. Van Dorn was bold and successful in his movement into the Federal rear, but he and his staff horribly mangled logistics. No food or ammunition was provided for his army, greatly discouraging them. He split his army in face of the enemy, and when two commanders were killed, one half was rendered practically useless for the crucial day. Van Dorn moved too cautiously, and by the time he broke the Federals, there was no time to continue on and rout them from the rest of their positions.


Anonymous said...

After visiting Pea Ridge this past week, it was cool to see the open field where the mile (plus)-wide line of Union soldiers gathered on day 2 of the battle. What a sight that must have been! Must have been akin to some of the Napoleanic battles where an entire army could have been viewed all at once on open fields. What a horror it must have been for the Confederates to see that mass of humanity lined up with one purpose.. to annihilate the South as completely and devastatingly as possible. -Chris in Champaign, IL

Joshua Horn said...

I have not been able to visit the Pea Ridge battlefield, I'm sure it is a great sight. Thanks for your comment.

Post a Comment